Online writing workshops are the digital version of popular physical writing workshops where writers gather in-person to read and critique each other's work. In an online writing workshop, members
can receive feedback on their writing, meet other writers, read and critique the work of others, and learn the craft of writing. The goal of a workshop is not to promote finished writing, but
rather to hone and perfect in-progress work through the feedback and support of the workshop community.
In general, most online writing workshops work in the following way:
- A writer joins, introduces themselves, and posts a short story, poem, novel chapter, or some other form of writing.
- Other members of the workshop read the writing and provide feedback. Depending on the capabilities of the workshop and the requirements of the writer, the feedback might be general or specific.
General feedback might touch on plot, pacing, setting, and characters. Specific feedback might focus on grammar, typos, word choices, passive versus active verbs, phrasing, punctuation, and more.
- The recipient of the feedback is then asked to "pay it back" by reading and reviewing other members of the workshop.
Every workshop has a slightly different mechanism for ensuring that everyone receives feedback but the feedback systems fall into three categories.
No Mechanism to Regulate Feedback
In these types of sites there is no mechanism to ensure that everyone gives and provides feedback. The site operates on the honor code and hopes that writers will spend the time to provide feedback
to others. The benefit of this is maximum flexibility and quick posting of writing. The downside is that because there is no mechanism to force people to comment, many do not. And the comment and
reviews that are provided are often one or two sentences and not very useful.
Point Systems to Regulate Feedback
On these sites, the workshop uses a point system to ensure that everyone who posts content also reviews. The system works by requiring members to accumulate points by reviewing others in the
workshop. The more sophisticated systems varies points payouts depending on the type and length of the writing or the length of the review. Once members have accumulated enough points, they
can post their own work. The benefit to a point system is that it ensures that all members who participate also contribute feedback. The downside is that all members must participate and read
and review. If someone doesn't want to spend the time to trade feedback with fellow writers, then a point system it not for them.
Assignment System to Regulate Feedback
Using this system, the site assigns content to be read and requires that members do so in order to remain in the workshop. Generally, the assignment system provides a date by which the content must
be read. The benefit to an assignment system is that you are guaranteed feedback because members are assigned your writing. The downside is that you might be assigned a genre or topic
you might not like, or you might not have the time that particular week to read and review the work assigned to you.
The feedback a writer receives from an online writing workshop can be quite good. Often, the workshops have members who are highly skilled writers and their assistance can be invaluable in teasing
out the correct plot, correcting common mistakes, or finding out what works and doesn't work in a piece of writing. Sites that have in-line review tools provide an even deeper level of feedback.
Because the feedback comes from multiple individuals, it provides a writer with a diverse set of insight on their writing.
Is a Writing Workshop for You?
A writing workshop benefits those who want to:
- Receive feedback on their writing from multiple individuals.
- Meet and connect with other writers.
- Interact with other writers from within the comfort of their home.
- Read the draft writing of other members and help them improve their work.
Writers should be open to feedback and willing to take constructive criticism along with praise. Writers should also be willing to spend the time to read and review their peers on the site. This
give and take is the lifeblood of a workshop. Members do not have to be experts at reviewing, but instead willing to put in the time to explain what they liked or didn't like about the work they
Privacy and Security
Most online workshops are secure and prevent non-registered members from reading what you post. The more sophisticated sites allow members to determine who gets to see their writing via visibility
controls. In general, writers must decide if the benefit of receiving feedback and connecting with others outweighs the small risk of having work stolen. The very act of posting something to a
workshop site provides a level of security since there is now a digital record associating the story with the author.
Finding the right workshop
Finding the right workshop is key to having a successful experience. In general, look for a workshop that:
- Looks active and has recently posted content and reviews.
- Has writers and reviewers in the subject area you are writing.
- Has a system to control unruly members and a no troll policy.
- Has a record of success. Look to see if any members from the site have successfully published their work and sold copies.
- Looks warm and inviting.
The best way to determine fit is to sign up, post some content, do some reviews, and see what happens.
Check out TheNextBigWriter Online Writing Workshop.
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